Education spending down, municipal costs up in Sharon

SHARON — The Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen presented their proposed 2024-25 budgets to the Board of Finance at a three-hour meeting on Tuesday, March 19.

New to this year’s consideration is the removal of capital improvement expenditures from the Board of Education’s budget, lodging them instead in the selectmen’s town budget. The change represents an effort to reduce the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) imposed by state education regulations.

“The Board of Education feels comfortable that the lower budget will meet MBR requirements,” Cahill said.

The proposed spending plan for Sharon Center School (SCS) anticipates total expenditures of $4,328,390, a reduction from the current year by $185,937 (4.12%). SCS anticipates $24,402 in grants to reduce their total expenses.

When the Region One assessment is added, the total education budget expenses rise to $6,045,960, but overall education costs still see savings of $57,396 (0.94%) when compared to the current year’s budget.

Currently, 28 students from Sharon attend Housatonic Valley Regional High School, or 9.7% of the enrollment. In the coming year, that student percentage is expected to grow to 10.1%, Cahill reported.

The Board of Selectmen’s town budget submitted to the Board of Finance shows an anticipated total of $5,858,287, an increase of $529,559 (9.94%) over the current year.

First Selectman Casey Flanagan reviewed the budget detail and responded to questions of clarification.

A necessary increase is seen in the ambulance squad’s need to hire paid coverage on weekdays to supplement volunteer hours. The cost for providing paid EMTs is estimated at $130,000 for the coming year. In past years, there were volunteers in sufficient numbers to cover the needed service.

Town employees were given a 4% cost of living increase across the board, Flanagan reported. Wage and salary negotiations are continuing with the road foreman and the road crew, he added, expecting them to conclude soon, and bring an increase to the proposed budget figures.

“We should be able to pay our employees enough so they can live here,” Flanagan told the finance board.

When combined, the proposed budgets from both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education show total projected expenses in 2024-25 are up to $11,904,247, an increase of $472,193 (4.13%) over last year .

“The bottom-line total number is not what I would have expected to present to the Board of Finance, but it’s the reality now,” Flanagan said, inviting finance board consideration.

Ongoing concern about the Connecticut Green Bank’s Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) signed by the selectmen on behalf of the town, to proceed with installation of a solar array at SCS was debated at the meeting.

During public comment, David Levinson, whose Hilltop Road property neighbors SCS, had urged the Board of Finance to review the agreement, particularly its estimates of up-front costs and projections of cost savings to accrue to the town over the 20-year life of the solar energy program. He also questioned the validity of the stormwater drainage plan.

Flaton and Bartram agreed to a meeting with Flanagan and a Green Bank representative to resolve the questions.

The public hearing on the proposed budgets has been scheduled for Thursday, April 4, allowing time for the Board of Finance to complete its budget review process.

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